The Ascension of Jesus is one of the key glories of the gospel, and it really is part of the good news. Our Conquering King is our High Priest, and He has gone ahead of us, appearing in God’s presence for us.
“For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people…” (Heb. 9:19-24)
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
From the time God first confronted sin in this world, it has been accompanied with blood (Gen. 3). So when Moses renewed covenant with God’s people at Sinai, everyone and everything was sprinkled with blood for the remission of sins (Heb. 9:19-22). Hebrews seems to combine a number of different cleansings, summarizing the whole system from the initial covenant ceremony with various rites prescribed in the law (e.g. Ex. 24, Lev. 14:4ff, Lev. 16, etc.). What that earthly tabernacle pictured was Heaven itself and God’s presence, and therefore, what that Old Covenant dedication and cleansing foretold was the purification of the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices (Heb. 9:23). Thus, it was necessary for Christ to ascend into Heaven itself – the temple made without hands – to appear in the presence of God on our behalf (Heb. 9:24).
WHY DOES HEAVEN NEED TO BE CLEANSED?
One immediate question that ought to occur to us is: why does Heaven need to be sprinkled clean by the blood of Jesus? Isn’t Heaven perfect, pure, and sinless? Remember that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and therefore, they are both places that God created side by side, intending for them to mingle and overlap. We see glimpses of this with Enoch walking with God, the burning bush, Elijah riding fiery chariots into Heaven, the vision of the heavenly armies surrounding Elisha and his servant, the transfiguration, and of course the Ascension of Jesus. Heaven is not far away; it is near, but the original unity has been terribly strained by our sin. Thus, the ultimate goal is pictured in Revelation in the imagery of the Heavenly Jerusalem coming down to earth from heaven, and the dwelling place of God being with men (Rev. 21-22).
But that still doesn’t really answer the question of why Heaven needs to be sprinkled clean. Oscar Wilde once told a story about a picture that told the truth about a man, and while he miraculously remained young, the more wicked the man became, the more the picture grew old and hideous.
On the Day of Atonement, in the Old Covenant system, two goats were chosen, and the sins of the nation were confessed over one and it was released into the wilderness. The other was killed and the blood was brought into the tabernacle in order to cleanse the tabernacle from all the uncleanness of the people, their transgressions and sins (Lev. 16:16, 19). In other words, because Heaven is not far off, and God in His mercy has drawn near and bound Himself in covenant to a sinful people, there is a sense in which our sinfulness stains God’s glory and collects in Heaven – like in The Picture of Dorian Gray – and must be cleansed.
THE GREAT MERCY OF GOD
We live before God constantly, and in our sin, we foul His presence. As His image bearers, our sins lie about Him. God is the Great King of the Universe, and we are insolent rebels, spitting on His mercies, despising Him and His goodness, mad with our lusts and envy and bitterness and complaints. And He gives and upholds us, and like Israel in the wilderness, we only complain and turn to idols. But God in His great mercy sent His only begotten Son into the world to be the true tabernacle (Jn. 1:14), which means He came to become that Image where all our hideous sin might collect. And so it did. And when He was lifted up on the cross, He was lifted up like the hideous serpent pierced (Jn. 3:14). But whereas Oscar Wilde’s image only mocked and caused despair, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, and all our sin gone forever. And if that wasn’t enough, He ascended into Heaven itself, into the presence of the Living God, appearing there in the presence of God for us (Heb. 9:24).
CONCLUSION: HEARTS SPRINKLED CLEAN
In the following chapter, it says that because of the blood of Jesus, we enter the Holy of Holies with boldness, because He is our High Priest (Heb. 10:19-20). We draw near with true hearts with full assurance of faith because our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience (Heb. 10:21).
How are our hearts sprinkled clean? First and fundamentally by agreeing with God that you are a sinner in need of His great mercy. But then whenever you confess your sins to God and anyone you’ve sinned against, He promises to cleanse us by the blood of Jesus and wash us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:7-9).
Which means that part of what Jesus is cleansing in Heaven is us because that is where we are seated with Him (Eph. 2:6). This also means that Heaven and earth have been reunited, and while we do not yet see all things under His feet, we see Jesus crowned with glory and honor (Heb. 2:8-9).